Under the guidance of an attendant, Garen returned to the accommodation arranged by his sect. He entered his own independent room, took off his clothes and walked into the shower.
He shut the door and gently turned the faucet on.
Cold water rushed out first, but soon the water warmed and steam slowly filled the bathroom.
Garen stood under the faucet, letting the warm water cascade down from his shoulders. The tense muscles and skin around his body gradually relaxed under the warmth. Hot water drenched his back and flowed to his feet, washing away most of the sweat and stains.
He wiped his face with his hands and started recalling the developments in the tournament so far. Each of his four opponents had their strengths and weaknesses. The strongest opponent was the last one, Carlos from the Order of the Iron Fist; his true strength was comparable to Golden Hoop Number 9.
"Now that I think of it, Carlos and Eldest Senior Sister share a similar fighting style: both aim to kill. But compared to Eldest Senior Sister at her current level, he is slightly weaker. Nevertheless, the difference is marginal," Garen contrasted Carlos with the standard of the Eldest Senior Sister that trained with him from his memory, and carefully evaluated it.
Since receiving the Secret Martial Art, even he himself was unclear what level his true strength had progressed to; he needed a clear comparison.
"Eldest Senior Sister would not have exhibited her full strength when she was training with me. Based on several daily details, I estimate that she is slightly stronger than Carlos. I could spar with Eldest Senior Sister when I am back to find out the current extent of my true strength. But why didn't Eldest Senior Sister and the others participate in the ranking tournaments? If they were here, White Cloud Gate wouldn't be in too low a ranking."
Garen's mind kept recalling the actions, strength and other details of Second Senior Brother and Eldest Senior Sister when they were in training.
Ever since he received the Secret Martial Art, his perspective had completely changed. His strength and martial art techniques have been coherently amalgamated to reach a stage where he could organically combine moves. Naturally, his perspective of former opponents had evolved, and he would notice more than he did before.
"Eldest Senior Sister and Carlos should be on the same level, and Second Senior Brother is slightly weaker. Third Senior Brother is on the same level as the guy from Holy Fist Gate in the first round. He's really too lazy…" As he thought about Third Senior Brother Joshua, he couldn't help but shake his head slightly. Practicing martial arts once every three days could still be considered diligent. No matter how talented he was, he wouldn't be able to accomplish anything if he wasted his talent like that.
He looked down and gently clenched his fists. After a few duels, Garen could clearly feel that he had become more powerful. There were no specific enhancements to his strength and speed, but his martial arts had become more powerful. He could spontaneously apply the Four Major Forms; they had been ingrained as a natural instinct. He could easily integrate the strength of his entire body in the execution of every move.
Even though the Strength points in the Attribute Pane remain unchanged, Garen could feel that his true strength had increased by more than one fold. He could probably achieve 500 pounds of explosive force in situ. If it were coupled with the impact of a run-up, the results would be unimaginable even to him.
"It would probably reach half a tonne…" Garen tilted his head upwards and allowed the hot water to directly drench his hair. "What a shame. This seems to be the maximum extent of the Secret Martial Art of White Cloud Gate. I could still progress further, but the Secret Martial Art has peaked."
"Garen, are you there?" the
voice of Master Fei Baiyun came from outside the door.
"I am, master," Garen hurriedly replied. "I'm in the shower. I'll be out in a minute."
He quickly turned off the tap, dried himself, hastily dressed then pushed the door open to walk out.
The door clicked as it opened. Fei Baiyun stood at the entrance clad in black silk clothing. He was wearing a round black hat and small sunglasses. Coupled with his handlebar moustache, he made an oddly delightful sight.
He let himself into the room and sat down. Fei Baiyun stared fervently at his disciple who closed the door and sat down.
"Garen, I was chatting to some old friends and heard that you won the preliminaries and entered the finals. You've really done me proud this time!" His face shone with glee. "I didn't expect your true strength to develop so fast after you've received the Secret Martial Art! This kind of talent… Looks like I was right in selecting you to be a last disciple!"
"Well done!" Fei Baiyun patted Garen's shoulders hard. "I will meet whatever request you have when we get back!"
"Master, you flatter me." Garen was somewhat embarrassed by his master's praises.
"I am clear about what is and isn't flattery. For you to be able to reach this level in a year, no one would have expected it. Your Secret Mammoth Technique should be at the Mammoth level, correct?" Fei Baiyun lowered his voice and asked.
Garen nodded. This was not something to hide. The Secret Mammoth Technique purely relied on perception and talent. It was different from White Cloud Secret Method and Explosive Fist Arts; those were fundamentals which required hard work.
"Indeed…" The more he looked at him, the more Fei Baiyun liked Garen. The smile that he suppressed to maintain his dignified image as a teacher couldn't be contained any longer. His wrinkly face grinned from ear to ear. "Any injuries from the tournaments?"
"None…" Garen replied truthfully.
Fei Baiyun suddenly stood up and looked at his disciple Garen, shook his head slightly and said, "I can't believe that a last disciple that I, Fei Baiyun, have admitted in my sunset years, would be such a fascinating character like you. There is still hope for White Cloud Gate…"
He hesitated, looked at the confused Garen, then finally made his decision. He reached a hand into his inner pocket and took out a round indigo metal container and gently opened it.
The metal box was merely the size of a palm, but there was another small black box within it. Fei Bayun opened that too.
On a piece of black silk inside the innermost box was a square black piece of paste, even on all sides. It looked insignificant.
Fei Baiyun looked at it and let out a long sigh.
"Here, eat this." He put it in front of Garen.
"What is this?"
Garen stared curiously at the squarish paste: it looked like hardened black toothpaste.
"Why are you asking so many questions? I won't harm you! Eat!" Fei Baiyun urged impatiently.
"Oh…" Garen picked the square paste up and put it straight into his mouth. He chewed a few times; it was sweet and sour, like eating a fruit roll-up. He swallowed it whole. Suddenly, from his mouth to his throat down till his stomach—any esophageal tract that the paste passed through—he experienced a cool refreshing feeling.
"Alright, rest well. Good luck in the finals tomorrow!" Fei Baiyun cleared his throat, patted Garen's shoulder and said as if nothing had happened. "I'll be off. You take care and condition yourself."
"Yes, master." Garen nodded respectfully.
At this, Fei Baiyun gave a contented nod, put his hands behind his back and sauntered out of the room.
When he was a short distance away from the room, he slowly turned back to look at the closed room door.
"Bloodboil Pill… Such miracle drugs are better utilized on youths. Don't disappoint me, Garen."
He turned around and slowly walked to the far end of the corridor, and soon disappeared around the corner. In that instant, even his silhouette seemed to have aged a lot.
At the other end of the corridor outside Garen's room, two other old men appeared. One had a full red beard, and the other had a pale and clean-shaven face, with skin covered in wrinkles and liver spots.
"I can't believe Fei Baiyun gave the Bloodboil Pill to that kid. That was his life's work: in order to collect all the herbs and ingredients, he almost lost his life several times. That is the White Cloud Gate miracle drug, able to cure internal injuries and prolong life, which he specifically intended for self-consumption in preparation for breaking through into the next stage. Now he's actually given it to this young fellow…" the red-bearded old man lamented as he recalled Fei Baiyun's silhouette walking away. He gently shook his head. "Without the Bloodboil Pill, Old Fei won't live for long."
"The accumulation of a lifetime of hard work, all wagered on one disciple. Old Fei is really…" the other old man didn't know how to continue.
"Life's like that. Everything is impermanent. Let's go. The matter regarding Eastern Saintcloth awaits, we have to sort it out soon. This kid doesn't let us have a moment of peace. He's getting into trouble wherever he goes!" the red-bearded old man sighed, and turned around to walk away.
The pale-faced old man took a look at Garen's room door, inexplicably let out a sigh, and turned to leave as well.
In the room, Garen was stunned to see the Attribute Skills Pane in the bottom of his vision undergo a slow but sure change.
Under the Skills column, for Secret Mammoth Technique, the word 'Achieved' after it gradually blurred, and slowly transformed into a new word: Explosive. But the wording was translucent, as if it hadn't fully crystallized.
"What's this?" Garen was shocked. He immediately thought of the thing that tasted like fruit roll-up that his master had given him. "Could it be some kind of secret medicine? What kind of secret medicine has such a powerful effect?"
The word 'Explosive' after 'Secret Mammoth Technique' floated about and looked unstable, as if it wouldn't be completed anytime soon.
Garen didn't know what would happen. He planned to observe first. This change seemed to be incomplete; maybe it would fully stabilize later.
After going out for dinner and giving some instructions to a few disciples, he went straight back to his room. He waited until it was dark outside, changed, and asked an attendant for directions to leave the Celestial Circle Gate grounds.
He went around the perimeter of the grounds and walked to the edge of a deserted forest.
Garen finally saw a figure in black cloak standing under the shadow of the woods. He stood silently with his back to Garen.
"You passed me the note?" Confident about his true strength, Garen approached him and asked loudly.
The figure dashed straight into the woods without replying.
"Don't think you can escape!" Garen scorned and trailed closely behind.
The bushes and tree leaves rustled as he ran across. They were sprinting one after the other in the dark forest, but Garen didn't manage to catch up with him.
Soon, both of them dashed out of the woods. They had reached the edge of the forest, and suddenly he saw a huge loess stone wall in front of him.
Four skulls were mysteriously engraved onto the stone wall, side by side. The sound of the wind whistling could faintly be heard coming from the black eye sockets and mouths. Each skull was ten odd meters tall; it was extremely spectacular.
A wooden suspension bridge linked the forest area to the open area below the stone wall.
The figure in black rushed onto the bridge without hesitating. Garen followed, and ran past the bridge quickly. An ominous cold current of air constantly poured out from the dark abyss below. The bridge swayed side to side as they ran past, and both stopped at the loess open area below the skull stone wall.
"Who are you?" Garen stared fixedly at the figure in black.
The figure in black slowly turned around, and revealed a handsome, apathetic face of a man. His skin was pale; there was almost no blush on his face. A few strands of long, black hair were vaguely exposed around the edges of his cloak.
"Garen Lombard, the disciple of that foolish brother of mine…"
"Who are you?!" Garen narrowed his eyes as a chill flashed across them. "Do you know how Old Man Gregor died?"
"How he died?" The man calmly gazed at Garen. "I killed him with my bare hands."
"And so you shall go to hell!" Garen's eyes widened. A crater blasted open under his feet as he violently leaped towards the man. An explosive roar like a mammoth trumpet could vaguely be heard coming from behind him.